TABLE OF CONTENTS

music

Sasha Geffen

SOPHIE performing at the Red Bull Music Academy Festival, Teragram Ballroom, Los Angeles, October 30, 2017. Photo: Koury Angelo.

1 SOPHIE, OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDEs (MSMSMSM/Future Classic) An emphatic departure from her initial singles, SOPHIE’s debut album deploys the producer’s unique pop vernacular to probe questions of identity, survival, and freedom. Plasticky synthesizer sounds warp around vocals from Cecile Believe as the record proposes an ecstatic vision of utopia beyond the body’s historical confines.

Still from serpentwithfeet’s 2018 video cherubim, directed by Allie Avital.

SERPENTWITHFEET, “CHERUBIM” (Secretly Canadian/Tri Angle) A love song doesn’t have to be light. It can dent the earth with the weight of its singer’s devotion. In “cherubim,” serpentwithfeet renders queer love with the seriousness and joy it deserves, using vocal processing from experimental producer Katie Gately to make a spectacle of affection that never forgets the world is bigger than just two people.

ROBYN, “HONEY” (Konichiwa/Interscope) Since her breakthrough 1997 single “Show Me Love,” Robyn has used her keen ear for melody to unravel complex emotional knots. With “Honey,” the advance single from the album of the same name, she sinks into the kind of sex that won’t do anything to heal the hurt. There’s nothing transcendent about her desire on this smooth, low-key pop song. It’s just desire—ephemeral, useless, and sweet to fulfill.

Still from Yves Tumor featuring James K’s 2018 video Licking an Orchid, directed by Daniel Sannwald.

YVES TUMOR, SAFE IN THE HANDS OF LOVE (Warp) Yves Tumor’s Warp debut is a nest of anxiety, hope, and dispassion: an unstable mix made possible by the album’s refusal to congeal into a single genre. Pop, funk, and soul scrape up against harsh noise and left-field samples (like music from the 1987 D-movie Demon Queen), but throughout the spectacular mess, Tumor’s voice never loses its fight or its allure.

Still from Julia Holter’s 2018 video I Shall Love 2, directed by Dicky Bahto.

JULIA HOLTER, “I SHALL LOVE 2” (Domino) Holter’s exquisite electropop often feels meticulously arranged, but “I Shall Love 2” lets everything spill. Its climax is a parade of exuberance—strings, voice, horns, and synthesizers—of the kind Holter has never before indulged in.

Matt Lambert’s video for LOTIC’s “HUNTED” (Tri Angle) The video for Lotic’s single “Hunted,” smeared with VHS grain, is at once a horror story and an act of mythic revenge, in which the artist drowns a boy only to emerge from the slaughter as a goddess in wig and headdress. For once, a black transfeminine person, whispering about the alienating gaze they contend with daily, gets to do the killing.

Promotional image for Charli XCX’s Pop 2, 2017. Photo: Charlotte Rutherford.

CHARLI XCX, POP 2 (Asylum) Charli XCX’s forward-thinking sensibilities come to a head on Pop 2, a dazzling collection of elastic, pitch-shifted songs that push their artificial veneer into the heart of the uncanny valley thanks to deeply embedded contributions from an impressive roster of collaborators.

ELYSIA CRAMPTON, ELYSIA CRAMPTON (Break World) Elysia Crampton’s self-titled LP leaps from beat to beat with a frayed ferocity. Her tactile production moves the listener on a visceral level and highlights the human need for communication deeper than language.

LALA LALA, “DESTROYER” (Hardly Art) When the chorus of Lala Lala’s “Destroyer” arrives, Lillie West snaps her voice into the highest register, marking the difference between keeping her cool and losing it. The shift reveals more about heartbreak than do even West’s evocative lyrics.

Cover of Yob’s Our Raw Heart (Relapse Records, 2018).

10 YOB, “THE SCREEN” (Relapse) YOB’s doom metal typically requires a patient ear, but “The Screen” quickens the band’s usual tempo with a guitar riff that itches to get out of its skin.

Sasha Geffen is a writer based in Denver whose first book, An Examination of Gender in Pop Music, will be published by University of Texas Press in 2020.